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The Sunday Papers

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Sundays are for going to your first live football match in years. Ticket? Check. Prawn sandwiches? Check. Great writing about videogames from across the week? Check.

Has 2017 seen the second death of the immersive sim? Poor sales of Prey, Dishonored 2, Deus Ex Mankind Divided and Hitman suggest so, and Robert Yang writes about it very well while positing some ideas for third-wave immersive sims. (I also think all of the above games had real marketing problems and failed to effectively communicate what fantasy they were selling.)

However, I still can’t shake the feeling that these games (as well-crafted as they are) all basically seem like the same kinds of games that I’ve been playing forever, and they never really manage to profoundly surprise me or make an impact on me. Today, I believe the immersive sim genre’s problem is not a level design problem or content problem — it is a game design problem about how it conceptualizes its game systems.

The past week has all been about loot boxes, thanks to their appearance in Shadow of War, Battlefront 2 and others. Are loot boxes gambling? Well, yes – but the answer is more complicated when you’re looking at the law and regulation. Vic Hood spoke to psychologists and the Gambling Commission in search of a more detailed answer.

Currently, the Gambling Commission does not class loot boxes as gambling because, in its view, the items obtained from them cannot be exchanged for real-life money. This is an odd position, considering the vast number of third-party sites that let you trade in-game items or currency for real-money. Paragraph 3.17 of the position paper states: “Where there are readily accessible opportunities to cash in or exchange those awarded in-game items for money or money’s worth those elements of the game are likely to be considered licensable gambling activities.”

Meanwhile Kat Bailey at US Gamer points out that no matter the backlash, people enjoy opening loot boxes too much for the industry to stop the practice now.

Having seen the rise of this subculture up close over the past few years in the Madden and FIFA communities, I’m left with the lingering feeling that there’s no going back now. Loot boxes, CCG packs, and general randomized gacha mechanics are going to continue to proliferate as big-budget developers chase the almighty dollar. And for as much as we complain, we’re still going to see video after video of people opening boxes with exclamations of “sick pull, bro!”

Plunkbat is a tight multiplayer game with no explicit narrative, but that hasn’t stopped people roleplaying within it. Merrit K at Waypoint spoke to people about who they imagine their character to be when they play. Alice linked this earlier in the week, but in case you missed it:

Another player, FJ, also sees his character as a prisoner—albeit a political one imprisoned for anti-governmental action—forced to fight for his freedom. Like Yenien, his character developed out of his nonconfrontational behavior in the game. As FJ prefers to play cautiously and avoid unnecessary interactions, his unnamed prisoner character prefers not to kill. “If non-lethal options were available,” FJ says, “he would use them and in team matches he’s left people bleeding out instead of finishing them off, sensing that they, too, would rather be anywhere else.”

The Orange Box – Portal, Team Fortress 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode 2 – turned ten years old this past week. Why not reminisce by revisiting the complete Go Team! in which Kieron, Jim, Alec and John wrote articles about each of TF2’s nine classes. Any time people complain when a new game comes out and we’re all excitedly writing about it, I think of Go Team. What’s the point of RPS if not to write passionately and indulgently about the games we truly love?

I am Heavy Weapons Guy. And I’m in a bit of a bind. You see, there’s already no way I’m ever going to want to play as any other class. When I glance at the list of players on my side from now on, I worry I’m going to have the same sort of mentality I do if I pass a clipboard-wielding guy wearing a charity bib and a hopeful expression when I’m in a hurry. I have total sympathy, but I won’t break my stride because I’ve got other business. Same when I look at my team’s Class roster. Boy, these guys could really use a Medic. Someone should probably be Scout if we want to successfully grab the enemy briefcase.

I’m not going to be the Medic. I’m not going to be the Scout. I’m going to be Heavy Weapons Guy. I don’t have time to stop and help other people, because I’m in something of a hurry. A hurry to kill.

Joe Donnelly at PC Gamer spoke to Steve Gaynor about Tacoma’s critical and commercial reception and the “changing state of indie games”. I love listening to and reading Steve Gaynor talk. (Tacoma was also badly marketed.)

If you look at the total number of games released on Steam or whatever, it’s gone up an enormous amount but I think also the number of good games that you might actually want to play has gone up a lot as well! I think that “market saturation” is certainly a bit extreme, but I also feel like we are at that point where for any given person who’s paying very much attention, there’s too much to play, so how do you become one of the things that people actually might believe in and put their valuable time into? The equation is, I think, way different.

Wesley Yin-Poole at Eurogamer spoke to Jon Hare, creator of Sensible Soccer, about the development of his next football game Sociable Soccer. It failed its Kickstarted two years ago but Hare has self-funded it (more or less) and it enters early access next week.

Hare, who owns and runs Tower Studios (“essentially a small publishing, licensing and game design company”), is working with Finnish developer Combo Breaker on Sociable Soccer. It’s Tower Studios, though, that’s fronting up the cash. “I’ve always had this as my company to fall back on,” he says. Eight months ago Hare took a shareholding in Combo Breaker and became part of the company. Clearly, he sees potential in the “Sociable” brand, which he says could be applied to any sport.

Music this week is The Go! Team’s debut album, from which our old Team Fortress 2 character profiles drew their name. God, they still sound amazing. Bottle Rocket is still my favourite song from Thunder, Lightning, Strike, so start there. I saw them live two or three times and the sound system could never cope with the cacophony, but shouting “DO IT, DO IT, ALRIGHT” with a crowd of friends and strangers was worthwhile experience.

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Graham Smith

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